Winter Hike: Willey Range

Trail Report

I’d been wanting to do a snowshoe of the Willey Range for quite some time. It seemed like the perfect place for a day-long snowshoe: it’s on the eastern side of the range (the weather infamously comes from the northwest in the winter), it’s almost entirely protected by forest, it includes three 4000 Footers and it affords some great views of the Presidential Range and down into Crawford Notch. Two friends and I attempted the Willey Traverse back in March but when one of us became sick we bailed after Mount Tom.

So on the morning of Christmas Eve I headed up to the mountains. My plan was to get an early start so that I could be back home in early afternoon to spend Christmas Eve with the family. I got up at 4:00 am, brewed some coffee and packed up the car. I’ve done the drive from Gorham, Maine to North Conway, New Hampshire about a hundred times, so it didn’t matter that it was pitch dark. I could have driven it with my eyes closed.

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Hike: Mount Willey

Date Hiked: 22 August 2015

After a month of cleaning and painting our new house, I needed to spend a precious weekend day hiking in the mountains. I had only done a handful of other hikes this year so I was jonesing for the mountains real bad. I decided on Mount Willey as it was my last 4000 Footer in Crawford Notch and damn I love that place. Also, there had just recently been talk about a new AMC hut in Crawford Notch and expanding the size of the parking lot at Willey Station to support it. I wanted to make sure I visited the surrounding trails before things changed.

In the past I would have had to wait until a mid-morning boat to get off the island and I wouldn’t have gotten to the mountains until late morning. On this morning I got up at 4am in order to get to Crawford Notch by 6:30am. I didn’t want to expend an entire day hiking, I still had house painting to do that afternoon.

When I pulled into the parking lot on Willey Station Road there was only one other car in the parking lot. I headed up the Ethan Pond Trail and stopped on the Notch Train tracks to take a shot of Mount Willey looming overhead.

Train tracks and mountain

Notch Train tracks and Mount Willey

On my way up the Ethan Pond Trail I passed by a few stealth campsites and realized I was in the heart of the great Appalachian Trail migration. But, I soon came to the intersection with the Willey Range Trail and got off the Appalachian Trial without seeing any more folks on their pilgrimage.

The Willey Range Trail climbed the southern face of Mount Willey fairly aggressively and at one point I came to a section made up of ten connected wooden stairs.

Wooden steps in forest

10 wooden steps leading to summit

A little while before 8am I made it to the summit of Willey. If I still called the island home, there I would still have been waiting for the earliest boat. I explored the summit for a bit to make sure all possible vistas were witnessed and returned to the finest one, just a short way down the trail in the direction I had hiked up. It had a beautiful view of Crawford Notch and the southern Presidentials. Mount Washington tried to glare at me from behind the clouds but the coverage was too much.

Mountains and valley

View of Crawford Notch

I had a snack and played with Periscope. I had a few digital people join me and enjoy the early morning view of the White Mountains. After about a half an hour break I started my way back to the parking lot.

The hike down was uneventful and I made the parking lot at 9:45am. By that point I had started to see other people on the trail and the parking lot was overflowing. Right at the trailhead was the truck of a former Appalachian Trail hiker with a Trail Magic sign in the window. The fellow Mainer had a table and chairs set up in the grass behind his truck and was cooking breakfast to order. I stopped and talked with him a bit. He offered me some breakfast but I declined, saying that I was just a day hiker. I told him about all the stealth campers I saw just up the trail, informing him that he’d surely have a full table in a bit.

Red truck with trail magic sign

Trail Magic

Willey was nice little hike for me. At 5 miles and under 2000′ elevation gain it was pretty mild  though I’m sure many would find it just right. It was definitely worth the view on top. The greatest thing about this hike was the realization that I could get up before sunrise and get a whole hike in before many people have even started and well before I could have while living on the island.

There are two kinds of climbers, those who climb because their heart sings when they’re in the mountains, and all the rest.
—Alex Lowe

Trail map

Map of hike (interactive map)

Stats:
Highest Elevation: 4285′
Elevation Gain: 1850′
Distance: 5.4 miles
Book Time: 4:10
Actual Time: 3:15
Temperature: 60°s
Weather: partially sunny
Wind: light breeze

References:
New Hut Proposed.” outdoors.org. Appalachian Mountain Club. Web. 11 November 2015.
Notch Train at Conway Scenic Railway.” conwayscenic.com. Conway Scenic Railway, Inc. Web. 11 November 2015.
Periscope.” periscope.tv. Twitter, Inc. Web. 12 November 2015.

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